(9/25/02 10:50:03 am)
| spirituality/reality in stories|
I have been read a lot of Joesph Campbell as of late, and was interested in how although the primary focus is mythology, it seems to keep wrapping around into religion. Every religion is/has a mythology, and they are very great insiprations for many types of stories.
With that in mind, I stated looking back at both ages old classic stories, and more modern ones. Particularly fairy tales and modern urban fantasy. I find it very interesting how they can convince you "this is how the world is or should be" reguardless of how fantastic or surreal the situation is.
Even if the context isn't necessarily religous in nature, it touched your spirit on that primitive instinctual level. It feels like a hidden thing you always knew somehow. I sometimes find myself wanting to believe, thinking that this is what I have looked for. And then my realistic side feels guilty for it. Especially where it challenges the religious perspective and world view I was raised with. And even more when I realize I never really cared for some parts of those things.
I know this is going to sound mad. It seems like there are enough things simelar in various sources to make one wonder if such things may be real, but written as fantasy because people as a whole don't see it. But again, thats my fanciful side that always hopes for more in the world than is obvious.
My point in all of this? I wondered if others have any simelar feelings. Or how others reconcile or express thier spirituality and religion in such stories. How much of it is real to you?
Another topic touching that one a little bit is how amazed at am at how so many role playing gamers, artists, and musicians I know all seem to be various designations of pagan (wiccan, native american, new age, agnostic, ect.). I know many people of a extremely wide variety of religions, and we're all friends and get along wonderfully. But it seems a odd coincidence how many creative people aren't whats concidered the usual religion or background. So I also wondered what people's perception as to the reason for this may be too.
(9/25/02 11:55:42 am)
One of my favorite sayings is attributed to Charles Richet: "I never said it was possible. I only said it was true." To me that paradox is at the core of telling stories. Pick one: a) It's all made up. b) It's all true. If you actually can pick one, you're missing the point. We're born to tell each other stories. That's what we do, and the well-told tale has its own reality. It is, as Jane Yolen once said (and I paraphrase from memory): "Storytelling is our oldest and best method of casting out demons and summoning angels." The tie to religion is explicit and obvious, which in turn has always been at least in part about making sense of the world around us and looking for meaning. That state you mentioned is actually one of, at least temporary, belief. More precisely described as the suspension of _disbelief_ that successful stories achieve.
That likewise describes at least part of the motivation for telling a story. Whether one agrees with the assessment or not, it's no coincidence that the mythos surrounding the origins of Christianity is commonly described as "The Greatest Story Ever Told."
(9/25/02 1:32:13 pm)
| My take|
Spirituality is certainly at the core of a lot of storytelling, but we must always be clear that by that we are not underlining any one particular path or road. Christianity especially has co-opted a lot of stories that aren't Christian at all. Why, both the virgin birth and the reborn god come from much earlier in human storytelling.
Stories, being wonderfully protean, will outlast the particular, or so I believe.
(9/25/02 2:20:15 pm)
Good point. In my first reply I'd started to say something to the effect that enduring religions had the best stories, but after a moment's reflection I deleted that comment because I realized that it wasn't true. The stories are what endure; not necessarily the religion.
(10/7/02 9:09:38 am)
| Back to Campbell|
Getting back to the Joseph Campbell aspect for a moment, though--where Ayliandra says that his mythological discussion comes around invariably to the topic of religion--this is, I think, because Campbell treated all belief systems as expressions of the same instincts, the same responses to the world, and therefore made no distinction between a mythology and a religion, regardless of the so-called primitiveness of the belief system under discussion. You could perhaps thus define a mythology is just a religion that no longer has active worshippers, whereas when we talk about "the Greek myths" we are speaking of the stories--which as Richard said, are the enduring elements. So maybe somewhere up the line you'll have "the Christian myths." Of course, die-hard contemporary Christian worshippers are unlikely to be much amused by my saying so.
(10/7/02 11:12:53 am)
| myths etc.|
A lot of words have been expended in the service of definitional debates in anthropology regarding myth and religion. The notion that *all* societies have myth would be a fairly mainstream view. One of the more influential definitions is a functional one and derives from Malinowski: myth are the stories that function as the charter for society. Cosmogony is often included in "charter" -- myths are the stories about the origins of society, humanity and the cosmos at large. Yes, Genesis is a myth, or set of myths.
Some anthropologists would lump the cosmogonical narratives of contemporary astrophysics with Genesis. My feeling is that the scientific process, and scientific knowledge, operates through a different form (or forms) of consciousness than myth, which is in essence story, and is about the *human* meanings of the narrated events.
The narratives of scholarly and scientific discplines can certainly be mythologized, and that seems to be what usually happens to history. Here in Philadelphia there is an intense debate surrounding the construction and content of the new Constitution Center. Recent historical and archaeological work has turned up information that is at odds with the received myths about the founding of the US. It was recently discovered, for example, that the entrance to the new Liberty Bell pavilion stands on the site of George Washington's slave quarters. The Park Service bureaucracy has been extremely resistant to incorporating this enormous irony into the interpretation of the site. The uproar over the issue might not have occured in other places, but Philadelphia is about 45% African American, and the fact that the first president kept slaves behind the first presidential mansion has its own powerful mythological resonance for that group (along with the fact that Washington's slaves kept running away -- Pennsylvania being a "free" state -- which evidently puzzled him).
A view of myth opposed to the Malinowskian one would be Levi-Strauss' -- for LS, true myth is a different *form* of story, defined not functionally but qualitatively, in terms of the depth, complexity, and the structural clarity and density of the embedded meanings. The prime habitat of myth is small-scale, face-to-face, non-literate, "primitive" societies, where there is enormous overlap in what is shared (in terms of culture, literary tradition, worldview, religion). He gives the counter-example of 20th- century academic music or modernist literature, where the assumptions, symbolism, etc. behind the work might be known only by one person (the author), and must be explicated to everyone else. In his view folk literature falls between these two extremes.
Whatever you think of Levi-Strauss' brand of structuralism or his analyses of specific texts (and there are enormous problems -- but then there are serious problems with Campbell, too), there is something to be said for this view of myth. With the kinds of stories he's talking about, the further in you go ( to paraphrase LITTLE, BIG) the bigger everything gets -- but that huge universe of meaning is invisible to the outsider who does not share the tradition and has only the words of the story.
As far as the link between myth and religion... One of the things that cosmogonical myths do is map the individual into the realm of the divine, and/or vice versa. There is a wonderful Levi-Strauss article called "The effectiveness of magic," in STRUCTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY (#1), that talks about why shamanic curing is as effective as it is -- the shamanic ritual makes the ailing patient a character in the divine story. It's well worth reading in conjunction with two articles on Navajo healing songways in RECOVERING THE WORD (ed. by Brian Swann and Arnold Krupat, U CA press, 1987). These are Paul Zolbrod, "When artifacts speak, what can they tell us?" and Barre Toelken, "Life and death in the Navajo Coyote tales." It *is* the story that's the powerful thing -- the engine of the religion, as it were.